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Criticism

Enduring cult

SHEILA KUMAR

A new release looks at Ayn Rand's contribution to literature, philosophy and religion.


Ayn Rand at 100, edited by Tibor Machan, Pragun Publication, p.159, Rs. 175.

RARELY does any writer create such a chasm. Many thousands of readers have been profoundly influenced by the works of Ayn Rand while an equal amount have been deeply affronted by the same. Idealised as much as she was reviled, the Russian-born cult novelist, founder of the philosophy she called Objectivism, garnered more brickbats than plaudits for her uncompromising stand on life and living.

Widely read

Ironically enough, Rand nevertheless continues to feature in all lists, as one of the 20th Century's most read writers. A 1991 survey revealed that after the Holy Bible, it was Rand's books that impacted people most. Closer to home, just about every roadside stall loaded with pirated books has copies of The Fountainhead and her magnum opus Atlas Shrugged. Canadian rock band Rush has credited her with being their fountainhead of inspiration; there have been films and documentaries, Academy Award-nominated ones, on the life and times of Ayn Rand. The cult, thus, endures.

Objectivism is a system of values which celebrates individualism, reason and self-interest and rejects the moral code that sacrifice, altruism and religion is good for the soul. Objectivism asks man and woman to live for the sake of himself/ herself and not for others, to make his/ her work the focal point of life and to develop a set of values and never to compromise on them. Objectivism also propounds the free market over communism.

As part of the birth centenary celebrations of the writer, Liberty institute, a Delhi-based think tank, has released a compilation of essays, edited by one-time Rand student Dr. Tibor Machan, called Ayn Rand at 100.

Rand's impact

The writers, academics and philosophers most of them, have discussed the impact Rand has had on literature, philosophy and religion, as also Rand's Indian connection.

The essays throw new light on Rand's works while reinforcing other positives regarding the author. Prof. Bibek Debroy evaluates what Rand means for the many Indians who read and absorb her precepts, noting that her non-fiction doesn't seem to hold as much appeal as her fiction does.

Prof. Machan observes in his essay that there is more to reality than just what the senses can record, even if what that is needs to be fully squared with what the senses can record. Rand, he states, brought this fact to our attention forcefully through her works.

J.E. Chesher seeks to place the ideas of Rand and her belief that one ought to live one's life as intelligently, thoughtfully and rationally as possible, vis-à-vis those of Hegel, Kant, Hobbes and Aristotle.

Ayn Rand and Ludwig von Mises were leading advocates of laissez-faire capitalism in the 20th century; Prof. George Riesman does a comparative study.

Prof. Robert White does a masterly summing of Rand's contribution to liberal thought, using her works of fiction. Roderick T. Long, for his part, argues that similar affinities might be found between Rand and the great philosophers of India, despite her antipathy toward the associated religious traditions.

Chris Matthew Sciabarra states that on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of Rand's birth, it is important to remember that her conception of human freedom depended on a grand vision of the psychological, moral, and cultural factors necessary to its achievement.

Realist metaphysics

Fred Seddon takes us through a personal journey on how he discovered Rand. Elaine Sternberg takes one of Rand's key premise "A is A", and underlines its essential truth. Rand, says Sternberg, provided valuable elucidation of a number of fundamentally important ideas and outlined a comprehensive, realist metaphysics.

Douglas J. Den Uyle defines Rand's ethics, metaphysics and optimism about the human race through the example of one of her towering heroes, The Fountainhead's Howard Roark.

In an age made famous for short attention spans, Rand purports to be of use only to the real reader, not those who skim her books for a potted version of prêt values and principles. This book, then, will find its own place in the library of the serious reader.

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